Using expertise in science of mass violence to help in Maine

November 06, 2023
Flowers and pumpkins rest on the grass in front of signs holding photos of murder victims.
Flowers, pumpkins and photos in Lewiston, Maine, where 18 people were killed on Oct. 25. Photo provided

When the call came from the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, Alyssa Rheingold, Ph.D., and Michael de Arellano, Ph.D., were ready to lend their expertise in Lewiston, Maine. 

The National Mass Violence Victimization Resource Center, based at the Medical University of South Carolina under the leadership of Dean Kilpatrick, Ph.D., is part of an OVC-funded team that helps such communities try to move forward. The center has scholars, researchers, clinicians, victim assistance professionals, technical experts and 19 national partner organizations who study the mental and behavioral impacts of mass violence and the best ways to help in the aftermath. 

Rheingold and de Arellano are part of a rotating team of experts highly skilled in helping communities shaken by mass violence. In the case of Lewiston, a city on the banks of the Androscoggin River in central Maine, the violence occurred in a bowling alley, called Just-In-Time-Recreation, and nearby Schemengees Bar and Grille. 

A man shot 18 people in what became the 36th mass killing in the United States this year, according to the Associated Press. The victims in Maine included 15 men, two women and a 14-year-old boy.  

Lewiston would need help recovering from this devastating blow. Survivors are at risk for feeling unsafe, guilty for living when others died, depressed and may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

White letters spelling Lewiston. There's a heart in the letter O. 
The shootings in Lewiston marked the 36th mass killing in the U.S. of 2023.

Some of the MUSC-based experts go to impacted communities in person at the request of OVC. Many others are hard at work in Charleston, analyzing, advising, strategizing and developing resources to help communities in mass violence preparation, response, recovery and resilience. The center has a website that offers aid to survivors, victim service professionals, first responders, health care providers and community leaders. It also includes content about the science of mass violence, town hall meetings, resiliency centers, resources for journalists and more.

Anne Seymour, associate academic program director with the center, called its work the most important of her 40-year career. “We go at everything with a strong evidence base. We don't do anything unless research proves it's effective. And we’re in it for the long run.”

The long run means years of work with communities recovering from mass violence. Rheingold, a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping people affected by homicide, described the team’s approach. 

“We don't provide direct services to victims and survivors in the immediate aftermath of an incident. Our role is really to support the community providers and organizations and agencies. So, we help them with consultation about what to expect, how to transition from a crisis response to long-term recovery efforts with a mental and behavioral health lens.”

It does that in partnership with OVC, which recently awarded almost $9 million to the center to continue its work. OVC initially funded MUSC to establish the center to improve the nation’s capacity to serve victims recovering from mass violence through research, planning, training, technology and collaboration. 

Kristina Rose, director of OVC, talked about that decision during a recent visit to MUSC. “My office provided funding for the Center in 2017 because it was clear to us that we needed to look at mass violence from a broader perspective, to review these incidents in the context of other incidents, to forge new research and obtain a clearer understanding of how these tragedies happen and how they impact and influence our communities over time.”

Sign saying Schemengees Bar and Grille. Billiards restaurant lounge. 
Schemengees was one of two sites where the gunman opened fire.

Six years later, Rheingold, director of the center’s Response, Recovery and Resilience efforts, is a veteran observer of the havoc mass violence wreaks. Her work is much more than a job to her. 

“It's something that I am passionate about as I find meaning and purpose in helping victims of crime. I’m especially passionate about tending to people in need who may be suffering by sitting alongside those individuals and being a source of support. Unfortunately, the world's full of suffering and I can't get rid of that. But I can do the best I can to help both individuals and communities on their journey toward recovery after large-scale tragedies.”

She and de Arellano have returned to Charleston, where both are professors in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MUSC. But their work with Lewiston and other communities impacted by mass violence will continue. 

“I really just feel humbled to be able to serve and offer support,” Rheingold said.


This product was supported by cooperative agreement number 15POVC-23-GK-00555-AERX, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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